The Foley Artist
lived in a two-bedroom apartment above a retail
store that sold pornography in West Hollywood.
Because he had spent his life adding sound
effects to motion pictures - cushioned footfalls
on parquet floors, any number of seagulls
and crashing waves on boardwalks, the turbulent
construction noises and traffic of a midtown
avenue in Manhattan - he cared little for
the winsome tones of the human voice. Dialogue
would never hold as much resonance as, say,
five carefully-placed elevator pings. At one
time in his life, when he was younger than
his 79 years, he'd obliged in small talk,
engaging a chatty makeup girl he soon married.
Their daughter was born in 1972. But impatient
with his wife's pleading and the selfless
demands of domesticity, Berong soon walked
out. One night, moved by drink and an unfamiliar
longing for others, he telephoned his former
wife's home and asked to speak with their
child. She informed him the teenager had run
off with a long-haired musician, then hung
up. Berong sat alone in a dingy Chinatown
hotel, the receiver limp in his hand, watching
a hairy centipede scuttle around the one-toed
sandal on his left foot. Instead of the harsh
bleating of the telephone, he wanted to foley
a more evocative click.
he had lived there for 22 years, he had never
set foot in the succession of stores below
his apartment. A medical supply store when
he moved in, the space had gone through multiple
reincarnations, at various times a lunch counter,
a busy pawn shop, and now a store that sold
pornography. When he was working, Berong was
infrequently in the apartment, traveling from
editing suites to home to crowded docks with
his Nagra, to record the lazy hum of the crowd
or the blare of a barge horn as it pulled
away from shore. At times, moved by sudden
impulse, he would open his eyes, turn off
his Nagra, and watch the crowd drift and bottleneck.
Once retired, his habits were inverted and
he spent most of his days in his apartment.
He sold his car and rode the bus to the grocery
store, the public library, and a well-stocked
video store near Paramount owned by a Filipino.
parents were dead, his two older brothers
were in a far province of Ilocos, and the
person most familiar with him was Manolo,
the Filipino video store owner, formerly a
property master who had worked with Berong
on a small-budget film called "Night of Desire."
A friendly but not gregarious person, Manolo
called Berong "padre" and often invited him
to his home to celebrate holidays and his
childrens birthdays. But, because Berong
never accepted, Manolo, deciding the elderly
Filipino a snob, stopped extending his invitations.
wet afternoon Manolo and Berong quarreled
over the older man's account, Manolo accusing
Berong of unpaid fees. Certain he was in the
right, Berong walked out of the video store
and selected a Blockbuster in West Hollywood,
resolving never to call on Manolo again.
days passed. Berong watched Telemundo
and Technicolor westerns with the volume turned
off and the loud engine of a bus or the heavy
bass rhythm of a car speaker drifting through
his window. One morning he scanned his large
video library, selected a film in Italian,
and went to his VCR and inserted the videotape.
The VCR would not play. Berong unplugged the
machine and tinkered with it. Unwilling to
consult Manolo at the video repair shop, he
hobbled downstairs to the pornography store
in hopes of purchasing a new VCR.
the store, a lanky red-haired man who seemed
more like a golfer than a clerk, hummed to
himself behind a high counter. His plain nametag
read Mick. Mick glanced at the older man,
then returned to his adult magazine. Berong
inquired about purchasing a VCR. The clerk
you please order me one?" Berong asked.
a fucking department store," Mick replied.
Two middle-aged men in cut-off jeans whispered
behind Berong. Mick repeated to Berong that
he didn't have what he wanted.
should care about your work," said Berong,
went upstairs and sat in a sagging armchair.
Air from the cushions escaped slowly. Berong
imagined crisp metal springs instead. He stood
and went into the kitchen. He could ride a
bus to the shapeless shopping mall near the
Pacific Coast Highway, but discerning the
simplest route seemed exhausting. He opened
a drawer near the sink and found a business
card with Manolos phone number. He went
to his phone in the living room, lifted the
receiver, then replaced it again. He would
not call the disrepectful young man.
next morning Berong again entered the windowless
shop. He stepped to the counter and asked
Mick to order his VCR.
slurped noodles with two chopsticks from a
pint-sized container. "It's not going to happen,"
I live upstairs."
do you want from me?" Mick asked. "Find someone
else to harass."
said, "I'm asking so little."
hooked a finger into his ear and dug around.
He sighed. In the concave mirror hung in one
corner, he glanced a trio of young men touching
the CD-ROMs. One CD clattered out of its package
to the ground. Berong stared at him.
a coupon for a free rental. Just go."
watched the clerk slide the yellow coupon
across the counter. He remained standing in
place. The dollar-sized coupon was neither
the video player he desired nor a suitable
replacement. For a second he wondered if the
sound of the paper sliding across the counter
could be mimicked with sandpaper on a hollow
plywood door. It was habit, the residue of
his life work. Most of everyday life could
be replaced with something more evocative.
stared at Mick's gaunt eyes above him, the
young man's exasperation as obvious as the
resolve he now felt. He took the yellow coupon,
placed it in his shirt pocket, and sat on
the sticky tile floor. Puzzled, Mick stood
and peered over the edge of the tall counter.
clerk pleaded with Berong for several minutes
but the old man would not move. His back was
straight and his eyes were closed as if he
were meditating. Mick reached below the counter,
placed a black telephone on top, and phoned
the West Hollywood police. To Berong, the
dialing sounded like the keys of a synthesizer
being played. Within the hour two officers,
their blue metal sunglasses perched like headbands,
arrived. One officer spoke with Mick and the
younger, more rotund one crouched and murmured
to Berong. The old man sat with his eyes closed
and said nothing. Finally they lifted Berong,
legs crossed like a pretzel, by his elbows
and carried him from the store. They placed
him on a vacant bus stop bench. Mick tended
to the remaining customers and then followed
Berong and the police officers outside.
at the vacant lot across the street, Berong
would not tell the officers where he lived.
Mick, too, listened but did not speak.
the officers stepped to their patrol car to
confer, Mick bolted the shop and climbed the
creaky stairs to Berong's apartment. The door
was unlocked. On a table beside the telephone,
Mick saw Manolos card. He called the
video store owner and explained the situation.
Within the hour, Manolo parked his SUV in
front of the bus stop. The officers left Berong
in the younger mans care.
go upstairs, padre," said Manolo. A fly buzzed
around Berong's collar.
somebody died," said Mick, crouching in front
of Berong, who was still seated on the bench.
stared past the littered, four-lane street.
Behind a wire fence he saw the skeleton of
a school bus, sickly trees, and weeds sprouting
from the cracks in the pavement. He heard
the rustle of palm trees in the provinces
of his youth.
help you, Berong," Manolo said.
saw a small bird hop across the roof of the
bus. I'll help you, he thought, flinching,
for he had always considered himself an independent
man. This phrase he associated with his ex-wife,
her meek voice repeating it time and again
before he left. I'll help you, padre,
he heard once more, and it seemed the most
pathetic sound a voice could utter. Help,
he simplified, watching the small bird jump
down and hop across the weeds.
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